Seeds being sowed for new parishes

Sts. John Paul II, Gianna Molla communities are vibrant and growing, pastors say

“It’s not that often that bishops are able to announce the kind of good news I am about to share with you,” Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila wrote in a column penned in November 2017, announcing the process of opening two parishes in Denver in response to the growing population.

Nearly two years later, both of these parish communities — St. Gianna Beretta Molla in Green Valley Ranch and St. John Paul II in Thornton — have grown both spiritually and in numbers, and they are hoping to break ground on their permanent homes soon.

Both pastors shared with the Denver Catholic about the challenges of building a church from scratch, its progress and the growth they have seen in their communities.

After St. Gianna’s footsteps

Celebrating Christmas, New Year’s, Ash Wednesday and the Holy Triduum at the Holiday Inn has not kept Father Jason Wunsch or the growing community at St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish from practicing the mysteries of the faith with devotion.

“It was kind of tricky figuring out the whole Triduum at the Holiday Inn, but we had some beautiful liturgies”, said Father Wunsch, pastor of the new parish. “A lot of the employees from the Holiday Inn know us now, some of them are Catholic and some of the guests were able to go to Mass.”

Now, despite meeting at the Omar D. Blair Charter School cafeteria for Sunday Mass, the parish community continues to grow, and it is getting closer to acquiring a piece of land in Green Valley Ranch to finally set foot on.

“The most important part is to grow that community of faith. You’re not going to have people contribute to the parish if they’re not evangelized,” Father Wunsch said. “If they’re not in love with Jesus, they’re not going to want to build a parish.”

The parish currently has two Masses, one in English and one in Spanish, and is looking to add a third Mass in the near future. Each has an attendance of around 200 people.
“It really feels like a family, which I think is a product, especially, of the core people that are growing in their faith,” Father Wunsch assured.

The installation Mass of Father Jason Wunsch, new pastor of St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish, was celebrated by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila Sept. 16. (Photo by Brandon Young)

In fact, he believes focusing more on quality over quantity is much better, especially in the early stages of a growing community.

“As far as participation, it’s excellent… There’s 200 people on a big day at the English Mass and 40 of them are coming to Bible Study,” he said.

With the faith community growing, Father Wunsch hopes the church can be built soon.

The parish had closed on a three-acre piece of land because nothing else was available at the moment, but after another much bigger piece of land went up for sale nearby, he set out to negotiate.

If they’re not in love with Jesus, they’re not going to want to build a parish.”

“It would allow us to build a bigger church and possibly in the future have land for a school,” he said, referring to the fast-growing population of the area. “It’s looking very bright.”

In the meantime, Father Wunsch hopes to fundraise enough money to hire an employee and keep building the new community of faith.

“I’m hoping our parish will continue to grow in the penetration of our faith and in relationship with God,” he concluded. “I think we always want to be like Gianna: a cheerful light… She found God in the grittiness of life, in the real mundane, into the present moment. That’s real holiness.

“We want to evangelize as she did.”

Following the saint Denver met

Nearly 20 miles northwest of Green Valley Ranch, another new parish community has been growing under the direction of Father James Spahn.

About three years ago, as pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Northglenn, Father Spahn told Archbishop Aquila his realization: “We need a new parish up here.”

IHM had grown to have over 6,400 families and the city was expanding day by day.

The future church building of St. John Paul II will be constructed on a plot of land at 144th Ave. and Detroit St. in Thornton that was donated by Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioners some years ago .

A year later, he was already celebrating Mass for the St. John Paul II quasi-parish at a new property purchased by the archdiocese, which is now the home of Frassati Catholic Academy.

“… Many parishes are closing [around the country] and here we are with a new parish,” Father Spahn said. “My hope is to build the people and form them as intentional disciples. That’s the first and most important [thing] before we actually build a building that we call church.

“We’re following the inspiration we’ve received from the Holy Father of intentional discipleship, evangelizing, sharing the love of Christ…”

With a capacity of nearly 325 people at Frassati’s cafeteria, he assures he is ready to start a third mass and hopes to start building the new church in Thornton as soon as possible.

The new church will be built on eight acres out of a 24-acre piece of land at 144th and Detroit that parishioners from IHM donated to the archdiocese years ago. The rest of the land will be used by the archdiocese for a future project that is to be determined.

Father Spahn is working with architects to develop a master plan that would be implemented over many years, following a similar method to the one he used when he was pastor at Our Lady of the Valley in Windsor.

“[I want to build] a beautiful church to worship, a parish hall, meeting space for different ministries and groups… to have outdoor Stations of the Cross, and a prayer garden outside because the property sits on a hill [and provides] an unobscured view of the mountains to the west,” he said.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrated the installation Mass of Father James Spahn as pastor of St. John Paul II Parish Feb. 24. (Photo by Brandon Young)

Although fundraising is especially difficult when a community is confined to a limited space and structure, Father Spahn trusts that God will send generous donors to help the parish building become a reality.

He especially entrusts the parish community and the new plans to the parish’s patron saint, John Paul II, whom he met personally during World Youth Day ‘93.

“I’m very happy Archbishop [Aquila] picked St. John Paul II… Cardinal Stafford asked me to be the driver for the president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, and wherever I was with [him], there was the Holy Father. So, every day I was with the Holy Father.

“What a blessing that the Archbishop and I got to have the naming of this parish after this wonderful saint that we got to know in a wonderful way in WYD in Denver.”

St. Gianna Molla

Sunday, 9:30 a.m. (English)
Sunday, 11:30 a.m. (Spanish)

Omar D. Blair Charter School


St. John Paul II

Saturday, 4 p.m.
Sunday, 10 a.m.

Frassati Catholic Academy Cafeteria


COMING UP: Saintly inspiration for new beginnings

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It’s not that often that bishops are able to announce the kind of good news I am about to share with you. As I write this column, the archdiocese is beginning the process of opening two new parishes in the Denver metro area in response to our growing population.

For some of you this isn’t news, since you are a part of the two communities – one in Thornton and one in Green Valley Ranch – that have come together to form the foundation for these future parishes. I am inspired to see the number of young families and faithful men and women who have committed to become a part of these new communities.

Before I reveal the names I have chosen, it’s important to explain some Church terminology that describes the phases of forming a parish. On December 3, 2017, these two communities will be designated as a “quasi-parish.” Prior to receiving this status, they were satellite locations of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish and Ascension Parish.

With their designation as quasi-parishes, these communities will now have their own patron saints, statutes, pastoral and finance councils, keep their own sacramental records, and have an established territory within the archdiocese. Once these quasi-parishes are incorporated and demonstrate that they can sustain themselves, they will be recognized as parishes.

I have been praying for quite some time about what these two new locations should be named. As I brought this decision before the Lord, the importance of renewing family life and evangelization kept echoing in my heart, and so I have chosen two recent saints who exemplify those missions.

This coming August, the Church will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s visit to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993. Many observers have commented that this was a spiritual turning point for the Church in the United States. And certainly, it was a turning point for the Church in northern Colorado. During his visit, St. John Paul II challenged us to become saints, and for many, he became a father figure who was also their spiritual hero. Countless marriages, and priestly and religious vocations were born during those summer days in Cherry Creek State Park, and 25 years later we continue to see new apostolates created as a result of his leadership and love.

Not only did St. John Paul II inspire many people to take up the demands of the Gospel with joy and zeal, but he also gave the Church the gift of the Theology of the Body. As forces within our society work to dismantle the blessing, meaning and purpose of sexuality, the treasure that St. John Paul II gave us in the Theology of the Body increasingly reveals its value.

For these reasons, I have decided to name the quasi-parish in Thornton, “St. John Paul II.” The community that has been meeting for the last several months has gathered at Frasatti Catholic Academy and the archdiocese is working to purchase land in the vicinity to provide a site for the parish church.

As I mentioned earlier, the state of the family has been in my prayers, too. A couple years ago I came across some love letters that were written between an engaged Italian couple during World War II. That couple was St. Gianna Molla and her husband Pietro.

St. Gianna Molla was a doctor with a generous heart for the poor and a desire to share her faith. At one point, she even planned to join her priest brother in Brazil as a missionary, but her family’s concerns about her delicate health and the primitive conditions there dissuaded her. Since she couldn’t be a missionary, she focused her intense love for God and the poor on family life and the practice of medicine.

In reading the letters that St. Gianna and Pietro Molla exchanged, their love for God and each other is evident. She wrote to Pietro, “I really want to make you happy and be what you desire: good, understanding, and ready for the sacrifices that life will require of us.” Pietro responded, “I’ve read your letter over and over, and kissed it. A new life is beginning for me: the life of your great (and greatly desired) affections and of your radiant goodness.” Their love for each other was fed by their faith, which was often mentioned in their letters. Their spiritual depth was also apparent in their decision to prepare for their wedding by attending a “triduum” of Masses over the three days before their vows.

Besides her love for the faith, St. Gianna is best known for how she lived her final days. When she was pregnant with her fourth child, who would be named Gianna Emanuela, she learned that she had a benign tumor on her uterus. This condition was treated at the time by aborting the baby and removing the tumor. However, Gianna steadfastly refused an abortion and had only the tumor removed, knowing that the risk of a stitch becoming infected or breaking from being pregnant was quite high. She gave birth on Holy Saturday, but a few hours later she came down with a septic infection. St. Gianna died four days later at her home.

Because of her love for her family, devotion to the faith, and protection of innocent human life, I have decided to name the second new quasi-parish “St. Gianna Molla.” This community has been celebrating Mass at Omar D. Blair Charter School in Green Valley Ranch.

As the Church works toward establishing a permanent presence in these locations, I urge everyone in the archdiocese to pray for these communities, that they might imitate their patrons and continue to grow. I also encourage you to learn more about these amazing saints, who offer us examples that are especially relevant for our society today. Saints John Paul II and Gianna Molla, pray for us!